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Yahoo Search Direct: Still (Barely) Hanging Onto Search

Danny Goodwin
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So Yahoo is still in search. We found that out last week as they hyped the arrival of their latest search "innovation" that they call Search Direct. Or, as Yahoo puts it: a "simpler way to find answers fast" and the "first fundamental shift in search in more than a decade."

Guess it depends what the questions are, and which search company you're referring to.

And to get it out of the way, Yahoo Search Direct is not like Google Instant. Yahoo even tells us so in a blog post.

Meet Yahoo Search Direct

Yahoo Search Direct, available for a spin at search.yahoo.com, doesn't treat you to a constantly changing page of search results -- it treats you to an occasionally changing list of results featuring "top sites" that maxes out at three. But don't worry: Yahoo guarantees they know what you want based on the context of your search, network behavior, and the behavior of the masses.

Yahoo is now pushing the idea of helping people find answers, not links, by providing "answers" in a search tray next to a list of the 10 most popular search suggestions for your query as you type. Top search trends update every 10 minutes.

Yahoo Search Direct works for top trending searches, movies, TV, sports teams and players, weather, local, travel, stocks, and shopping.

Trending Searches

So, you know a search product is in trouble when you search for something, and Yahoo has absolutely nothing to return. In this case, it's Amy Petitgout (a teacher who is marrying Patrick Kennedy -- what should be an easy find in Yahoo News):

yahoo-direct-no-results.png

Yes, Yahoo's Search Direct index is small. But small doesn't mean better or even good -- or even up to date apparently.

Search Previews

Basically what you're getting in the search tray is something they call "search previews," a stripped down version of Yahoo organic search results. But Yahoo is just returning the top three queries and cutting off the rest -- to the point where on some queries you have no idea what you're even clicking on.

For example, a search for [house tv show] returns this search preview:

house-yahoo-search-direct.png

A link to the official Fox site? No. Every link here takes you to a Yahoo "House" page.

What was my question again?

Oh, but this a recurring trend.

Yahoo Bias, An A-Z Guide

When Google Instant debuted, a fun game was typing in the letters of the alphabet to see what would pop up. With 21 out of 26 Google suggestions returning big brand websites, Google took some heat for a perceived brand bias.

Yahoo? Yahoo has a serious Yahoo bias. Only 4 of 26 letters (I, J, Q, and X) return something other than a Yahoo property.

  • A is for Answers (and Autos, Address Book, Avatars, Alerts, and Account Info)
  • B is Bookmarks (and Buzz)
  • C is for Calendar (and Connected TV)
  • D is for Deals (and Delicious and Directory)
  • E is for Entertainment (and Education)
  • F is for Finance (and Fantasy Baseball, Fantasy Football, Food, and Flickr)
  • G is for Games (and Green, Greetings, and Groups)
  • H is for Monster+HotJobs (and Horoscopes, Health, and Help Central)
  • I is for...iTunes? Didn't know Yahoo owned that. Oh wait, actual search results?
  • J is for Jennifer Lopez. Two in a row!
  • K is for Kids (no other possible search terms for the letter K?)
  • L is for Local (see K)
  • M is for Mail (and Mobile, Music, Messenger, Movies, My Yahoo, Maps, and the soon-to-be-deceased MyBlogLog)
  • N is for News
  • O is for omg!
  • P is for People Search (and ...Personals by Match.com, Pulse, and Pipes)
  • Q is for QVC (at least until Yahoo starts a "q" product)
  • R is for Real Estate
  • S is for Sports (and Shine, Shopping, and Small Business)
  • T is for Travel (and TV, and Tech News)
  • U is for Upcoming
  • V is for Video
  • W is for Weather (and Widgets)
  • X is for Xbox 360
  • Y is for Yahoo Developer Network
  • Z is for Zsa Zsa Gabor

Who was this system made for? Don't think it's for users.

Direct Answers

Well, Yahoo says they'll provide an address or phone number, three-day weather forecast, financial stock performance, movies, and other info in the box, no need to go to the SERP.

Want to find a stock quote for YHOO? Yahoo wants me to do a search for YHOOMAILL instead?

This is like Alta Vista being unable to find Alta Vista. Yahoo can't find its own stock quotes.

To be fair, you can find AMZN, but it's really tough to find many of these that actually work.

OK, how about weather? I can click to the Weather Channel website. No direct answer, even though Yahoo says I should be seeing this just by typing in wea:

weather-yahoo.jpg

But if you want the weather in New York City, search for [new york city, ny]?

weather-nyc-yahoo.png

Movie + ZIP code seems to work, returning my local theater and a couple of movies. But click on anything and you're forced to visit Yahoo Movies.

Yahoo also fails on such searches as [true blood] (returning a 1989 movie rather than the popular HBO series); [suckerpunch] (motorcycle site, not the new movie); and towns (e.g., [Hinsdale, Illinois] is a trending topic without any suggestions).

We could go on, but as should be obvious by now, this "beginning of the beginning of a new era in search" is just not good right now. Why even bother putting out a product in this condition, beta or not? Sorry Yahoo.

Yahoo PPC & Advertising

"Following the launch of Search Direct, PPC ads will still be displayed on search results pages," ClickZ's Jack Marshall reported. "Whenever a user clicks on a term or hits the enter key, a standard list of search results and ads will be displayed."

For more Search Direct from an advertising perspective, see ClickZ's "Yahoo Aims for Brand Ad Dollars with New Search Feature."


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